Jerome Baker, Raekwon McMillan extend Buckeye brotherhood

After a rocky first month, first-year starters Raekwon McMillan and Jerome Baker are hitting their stride on the field for the Dolphins. Mark Brown/Getty Images

DAVIE, Fla. -- Jerome Baker was a 17-year-old, happy-go-lucky kid from Cleveland when he first met Raekwon McMillan.

The two were quite different, but McMillan’s job was to help recruit Baker to Ohio State. McMillan, a year older, realized he bit off plenty from the jump. Baker got on his last nerves immediately.

“That’s my big brother, for sure. I’m that annoying little brother that gets underneath his skin,” Baker said. “He knows it’s out of love. It’s probably my personality. I like bothering him. Any way I can.”

When Baker means any way, he means any way. Coaches and teammates can recall some of the pranks and conversations that end with Baker laughing and McMillan shaking his head.

“He can be annoying,” McMillan said. “I try to keep him right. He gets me right sometimes. He goes out there making plays. It makes me want to do the same. We bump heads from time to time. Other than that, I love him to death.”

The two linebackers shared two years together at Ohio State (2015-16) before McMillan went to the NFL, drafted in the second round by the Miami Dolphins. Just as luck would have it, Baker was drafted by the Dolphins in the third round this past year.

They both essentially are rookies this year. McMillan tore an ACL on kickoff coverage on his first preseason snap last August and spent the entire 2017 season on injured reserve.

Now he’s getting a chance to be back on the field with the “annoying” little brother he knows well and loves like his own family.

So, did big brother McMillan lather Baker in praise after his best game as a pro, when he notched two sacks in a Week 5 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals?

“Nah, he got some lucky sacks; he got some easy sacks,” McMillian said. “I need to get some of those.”

That’s just their relationship. It’s the same way on the football field, basketball court or playing "NBA 2K18."

“The only thing he’s better than me in is eating,” Baker joked. “We challenge each other in everything. We joke. We have fun. Knowing each other for all these years, I can believe that he actually wants me to be better. He knows that I want him to be better.”

Defensive coordinator Matt Burke added: “It helps Raekwon having someone to talk to and that he’s comfortable with out there. They have a good back-and-forth. ‘Bake’ is always trying to sort of loosen Raekwon up. Raekwon is always trying to yank him back down to reality and focus and stuff.”

After a rocky first month, Baker and McMillan are hitting their stride on the field and increasing their level of fun. Each has played a key role in a Dolphins defense that has upped its play in October as their injuries start to pile up.

It just took a return back to Ohio -- Cincinnati, to be specific -- to play their best games as NFL players.

Baker had those two sacks and seven tackles. McMillan had six tackles, including one tackle for loss, and ran sideline to sideline to hold the Bengals in check.

“I was giving them a hard time, saying we’ve got to play in Ohio every week,” coach Adam Gase said.

Baker added: “The Ohio State factor is definitely not to be overlooked.”

The Dolphins don’t have any more regular-season games in Ohio, so they’re hoping the production continues no matter where they play.

McMillan and Baker both credit veteran linebacker Kiko Alonso for helping them quickly acclimate to the NFL starting lineup as rookies. Each has changed his routine in the past couple of weeks thanks to Alonso’s suggestions.

Linebackers coach Frank Bush gave them a checklist of things to look for during the game. They are spending more time focusing in the meeting rooms and on studying rather than spending that time putting more wear on their bodies during the week.

Coaches have seen the results.

Gase praised McMillan, Miami's middle linebacker who had been slow to react and get off blocks in the first four weeks, for “striking first instead of waiting for that guy to get his hands on him."

Baker, the team's coverage linebacker, received recognition from Burke: “We like Bake’s speed. We like that matchup in the passing game."

The Dolphins' young and unproven linebacker crew was one of the team’s biggest weaknesses going into the season. If Baker and McMillan turn out to be draft hits instead of misses, Miami could have answers at this position in the short term and long term.

They aren’t there yet. There’s still plenty of room to grow. But there’s plenty of promise, and a tight bond.

“We’re together with the Miami Dolphins trying to achieve something greater for this organization. We already did it at Ohio State,” McMillan said. “We’re just trying to do it here.”